The reason behind the 75% decrease in Africa’s lion population

Posted on 3 November 2022 By Jordyn Johnson

Africa’s lion population is constantly declining; within the last 50 years, we have seen a 75% decrease. Researchers at the University of Oxford’s Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) have examined  lion populations and habitats on the continent over the past five decades to find out why.

decrease in Africa's lion population

Researching the decreasing lion population

The problem with today’s conservation efforts is that they focus on ‘present-day geographical ranges and population estimates’ without looking at how populations and habitats have changed over time. WildCRU followed patterns and trends in the changing lion population over a substantial amount of time in an attempt to find a reason for their decline.

WildCRU chose to use 1970 as their baseline. Firstly, because this particular year when ‘credible and detailed sources of information on the lion ranges and populations,’ reports Africa Geographic. Sources and analyses before then were more sporadic and not as reliable for researchers to use.

The second reason for choosing 1970  is because Africa has seen an increase in the human population and agricultural development – doubling in size since then.

decrease in Africa's lion population

The results

What they found was that not only were lion habitats slowly decreasing as the human population increased and expanded, but the connection between the habitats had also decreased.

With an 85% loss in range since the early 16th century, lions became more ‘vulnerable to loss of genetic diversity, inbreeding depression, disease and stochastic events (such as drought),’ Africa Geographic added. We have seen a decline of about 70,000 individual lions over the last 5 decades. Unfortunately, these findings are representative of other large South African mammals.

The solution

Although not fully reparable, there is a solution to the decline in Africa’s lion populations. Researchers suggest creating more ‘wildlife corridors’ to increase their range and allow them to move freely to other habitats ‘through integrated land use planning exercises, implementation of human-wildlife conflict mitigation strategies and enhancement of sustainable, wildlife-based livelihoods.’ Lead author Professor Andrew Loveridge says.

‘Our future conservation efforts need to halt habitat loss and work to preserve the remaining habitat corridors linking core populations.”

decrease in Africa's lion population

Picture: Nicholas Smith

To learn more about the decline in African lion populations, visit

Pictures: Getaway gallery

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